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Levin’s legacy endures at the School of Medicine

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2013 - Winter


President Richard C. Levin steps down after 20 years. Provost Peter Salovey will take the helm in June.

When Richard C. Levin took office as president of Yale in 1993, the university faced several challenges. Among them were an infrastructure desperately in need of repairs and renovations, high crime rates in New Haven that made it hard to recruit students and faculty, and talk of eliminating entire departments because of a budget crisis. While these pressing issues needed to be addressed, Levin also held a vision of Yale as a truly global institution. And preeminence in science and medicine was essential to reaching that goal.

“We are among the handful of centers in the nation and the world that have assumed leadership in the basic biological sciences, the understanding of human health, the treatment of human disease, and the education of scientists and medical practitioners,” Levin said in a 1996 speech. “As our fourth century begins, we must aspire to continuing leadership in the life sciences, which hold so much promise for human health and our nation’s future prosperity.”

In August 2012 Levin announced that after 20 years of leading the university, he would step down at the end of the current academic year. (In November, the Yale Corporation, in a unanimous vote, named Provost Peter Salovey, Ph.D. ’86, to succeed him.) Levin noted in a message to the Yale community that the time is right for a change in leadership. The university, he said, is in a much stronger position than it was 20 years ago. Many institutional goals—the five-year Yale Tomorrow campaign; renovations of the residential colleges; managing the 2008 financial crisis; funding for the new School of Management campus; achieving critical mass on the West Campus; and launching Yale-NUS College in Singapore—have been reached or are close to realization.

At the School of Medicine Levin has left a legacy of investments in new research buildings as well as recruitments of leading scientists and physicians that have strengthened its clinical, educational, and research missions. In January 2000 Yale announced an unprecedented $500 million investment in science and engineering. Less than a month later Levin announced an additional $500 million for the School of Medicine over the coming decade.

“He had a very clear vision that science was critical to the future of Yale University,” said Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, who came to Yale in 2004. “Rick felt that medicine was already strong and that with the right investments it could become really strong. He was committed to having a great medical school and was very good at tying his decisions to that vision.”

Those investments created the infrastructure for modern biomedical science—new laboratories, core technology facilities, and high-tech teaching centers. The opening of two new buildings—the 457,000-square-foot Anlyan Center for Medical Research and Education and the 120,000-square-foot Amistad Street Building—freed older spaces for new uses, and permitted reorganization and renovation across the medical campus. New space led to an increase in medical school faculty, which in turn led to an increase in the school’s annual grant funding over the same time period, from about $140 million to about $540 million. Support of medical research has had a spinoff effect, nurturing a biotech industry in New Haven, which is now home to several companies formed on the basis of discoveries made in Yale labs.

In another advance for scientific and medical research, the university in 2007 purchased the former Bayer Healthcare North American pharmaceutical headquarters, now known as West Campus, adding more than 1.5 million square feet of building space to the university, including 450,000 square feet of laboratory space. Rather than use these facilities as spillover space for existing programs, Levin believed that the campus should provide opportunities for innovative biomedical and clinical science programs that cross disciplinary boundaries. “I remember him saying that this should not be just more of the same,” Alpern said. “It should allow us to do something different and distinctive.” The West Campus is now home to new biomedical research centers as well as core technology facilities. “This has transformative potential, frankly, only some of which we can envision today,” Levin reflected when planning began for the West Campus. “We’ve given our successors an opportunity to dream in ways we can’t imagine today.”

In selecting Salovey to succeed Levin, members of the Yale Corporation cited his leadership skills and his knowledge of Yale, as well as his own scholarly accomplishments. Salovey, the Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, has also served as chair of psychology, dean of Yale College, and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; and has longstanding links to the schools of medicine and public health. In 1997 he became the first deputy director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS. He is well known for his research on the concept of emotional intelligence and studies of effective health communications.

“While Rick Levin will be missed greatly, Peter Salovey will be an excellent successor,” Alpern said. “I am confident that he will continue Rick’s commitment to science and medicine, while defining his own specific agenda and implementation plan.”